The Impact of COVID-19 on Public Health Will Create New Opportunities Well Beyond 2021
The impact of COVID-19 will be on all levels. Increasing pressure from patients will challenge healthcare providers (from primary through to tertiary) throughout 2021. There will be larger global impacts as well – average nourishment is likely to go down in most countries, and there will be lower average (seasonal) immune health in many countries.
This is not all doom and gloom – there will be new business opportunities. Enterprises and innovators will find opportunities in:
Supply Chain Arbitrage. Continued asymmetrical supply and demand will drive the movement of healthcare related goods and services across geographies.
Investment. Investments in pharma/ vaccine/ diagnostics manufacturing and distribution will be driven more by short-term horizons, defensive capacity building, and supply security concerns. Technology and IP acquisition by pharma and medtech leaders will also accelerate.
Innovation. COVID-linked gaps in health, immunity, nourishment, and lifestyles will lead to new products within foods, supplements, medications, and pharmaceuticals; and in tech-enabled personal devices and health monitoring apps or systems.
New Businesses. We will see an upsurge in demand and supply of alternative medicines and devices as well, although these may still not be accepted in conventional medicine.
Healthcare Policies Will Focus on Product & Manufacturing Security and Supply Chain Control
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the need for better collaboration and visibility of external resources to handle unprecedented scenarios. Governments in countries that have done well to manage the crisis took the vital step of encouraging and being the hub for cross-agency collaboration. Having a siloed view of resources and the supply chain is not sufficient in combating larger challenges. Healthcare policy makers will work towards a more collaborative, AI-driven, supply chain.
Some of the world’s largest economies have already begun to take steps to reduce manufacturing and supply chain dependencies in pharma, vaccines, diagnostics and medical devices. What has shown up as opportunistic stockpiling or supply chain arbitrage will become more entrenched. Various governments will either incentivise or centralise the establishment of manufacturing and long-term supply contracts for their countries.
2021 Will be a Breakout Year for Community Health
COVID-19 has significantly disrupted current standards of care for chronic diseases world-wide. Frequency and necessity of patient visits to hospitals and clinics for routine checkups and minor interventions are being evaluated by healthcare planners and providers. There are concerns about the increasing cost of providing basic services, allocation of healthcare capacity to higher priority needs, and the need to reduce risk of exposure to the vulnerable population.
Telehealth and Digital Health technologies have seen a marked increase in adoption during the pandemic, but the real effectiveness of these solutions to solve a healthcare delivery problem is still emerging. We predict 2021 will be a breakout year for Community Health, powered by these two technologies. There will be an increased focus on building resilient communities and early warning systems. Number of visits to hospitals and clinics for routine observations will drop by 15-20% or even more. Privacy and Data security concerns will increase, and this will also lead to better policy and practices to address these concerns. 2021 promises to be a better year for coordinated community care.
Healthcare Providers Will be More Tech-Dependent Than Ever
In 2020, healthcare providers’ technology investments took off on unexpected trajectories and they have digressed from their technology and transformation roadmap. Many solutions would have gone through an initial ‘proof-of-concept’ without the formal rigours and protocols. Many of these will be adopted for longer term applications.
Healthcare organisations had to pivot their technology spending when COVID-19 hit. There were several changes that were required to be made, including implementing operational measures to ensure staff safety and cutting down on non-essential expenses. When it comes to digital initiatives, the key focus areas were evolving service delivery and empowering employees with the right technology for care delivery – often remote. What providers did not have the time or resources for was to digitalise processes and retain focus on their entire patient demography – and not just those impacted by COVID-19. In 2021, we see a clear indication that not only will their priorities be different, healthcare providers will ramp up their technology investments in all areas.
Medtech and Providers Will Find New Synergies
Medical devices which generate clinical data and/or are driven by clinical data will attract greater investment and higher R&D expenditure; and will either dominate or begin to set the direction for future consumer devices in the Healthcare space.
The popularity of telehealth and digital health will put pressure on healthcare providers to further draw data-driven insights from personal devices. They are likely to mandate the devices that they would be willing to use the data from They will have greater power to demand Interoperability and operating system convergences in the next few years from device developers and manufacturers.
2021 will see an increased use of devices such phones, bracelets and even anklets to track the spread of COVID-19. It will also see the transition of the smartphone to a medical device. The collection, sharing of data, running AI/machine learning will make our smartphones an integral part of remote patient management.
This is a summary of the predictions, the full report (including the implications) is available to download for free on the Ecosystm platform here.
The Top 5 Retail & eCommerce Trends for 2021
There Will Only be Omnichannel Retailers
The value of an omnichannel offer in Retail has become much clearer during the COVID-19 pandemic. Retailers that do not have the ability to deliver using the channel customers prefer will find it hard to compete. As the physical channel becomes less important new revenue opportunities will open up for businesses operating in adjacent market sectors – companies such as food and grocery wholesalers will increasingly sell direct to consumers, leveraging their existing online and distribution capabilities.
Most customers transact on mobile device – either a mobile phone or tablet. New capabilities will remove some of the barriers to using these mobile devices. For one, technologies such as Progressive Web Apps (PWA) and Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) will provide a better customer experience on mobile platforms than existing websites, while delivering a user experience at par or better than mobile apps. Also, as retailers become AI-enabled, machine learning engines will provide purchase recommendations through smartwatches or in-home, voice-enabled, smart devices.
COVID-19 Will Continue to be an Influence Forcing Radical Shifts
In driving the economic recovery in 2021, we will see ‘glocal’ consumption – emphasis on local retailers and global players taking local actions to win the hearts and minds of local consumers. There will be significant actions within local communities to drive consumers to support local retailers. Location-based services (LBS) will be used extensively as consumers on the high street carry more LBS-enabled devices than ever before. Bluetooth beacon technology and proximity marketing will drive these efforts. Consumers will have to opt-in for this to work, so privacy and relationship management are also important to consider.
But people still want to “physically” browse, and design aesthetics of a store are still part of the attraction. In the next 18 months, the concept of virtual stores that are digital twins will take off, particularly in the holiday and Spring clearance sales. Innovators like Matterport can help local retailers gain a more global audience with a digital twin with a limited technological investment. At a minimum, Shopify or other intermediaries will be necessary for a digital shop window.
The Industry will See Artificial Intelligence in Everything
AI will increase its impact on Retail with an uptake in two key areas.
Customer interactions. Retail AI will use customer data to deliver much richer and targeted experiences. This may include the ability to get to a ‘segment of one’. Tools will include chatbots that are more functional and support for voice-based commerce using mobile and in-home edge devices. Also, in-store recognition of customers will become easier through enhanced device or facial recognition. Markets where privacy is less respected will lead in this area – other markets will also innovate to achieve the same outcomes without compromising privacy but will lag in their delivery. This mismatch of capability may allow early adopters to enter other geographic markets with competitive offers while meeting the privacy requirements of these markets.
Supply chain and pricing capabilities. AI-based machine learning engines using both internal and increased sources of external data will replace traditional math-based forecasting and replenishment models. These engines will enable the identification of unexpected and unusual demand influencing factors, particularly from new sources of external data. Modelling of price elasticity using machine learning will be able to handle more complex models. Retailers using this capability will be in a better position to optimise their customer offers based on their pricing strategies. Supply chains will be re-engineered so products with high demand volatility are manufactured close to markets, and the procurement of products with stable demands will be cost-based.
Distribution Woes Will Continue
Third party delivery platforms such as Wish and RoseGal are recruiting additional international non-Asian suppliers to expand their portfolios. Amazon and AliExpress are leaders here, but there are many niche eCommerce platforms taking up the slack due to the uneven distribution patterns from the ongoing economic situation. Expect to see a number of new entrants taking up niche spaces in the second half of 2021, sponsored by major retail product brands, to give Amazon a run for their money on a more local basis.
As the USPS continues to be under strain, delivery companies like FedEx in the US who partner with the USPS are already suffering from the USPS’s operational slowdown, in both their customer reputation and delivery speed. In 2021, COVID-19 – and workers’ unions – will continue to impact distribution activities. Increased spending in warehouse automation and new retail footprints such as dark stores will be seen to make up for worker shortfalls.
China’s Retail Models Will Expand into Other Markets
China’s online businesses operate in a large domestic market that is comparatively free of international competitors. Given the scale of the domestic market, these online companies have been able to grow to become substantial businesses using advanced technologies. All the Chinese tech giants – among them Alibaba, ByteDance, DiDi Chuxing, and Tencent – are expanding internationally.
China’s rapidly recovering economy puts those businesses in a strong position to fund a competitive expansion into international markets using their domestic base, particularly with their Government’s promotion of the country’s tech sector. It is harder to impose restrictions on software-based businesses, unlike the approach that we have witnessed the US Government take for hardware companies such as Huawei – placing constraints on mobile phone components and operating systems.
These tech giants also have significant experience in a Big Data environment that provides little privacy protection, as well as leading-edge AI capabilities. While they will not be able to operate with the same freedom in global markets, and there will be other large challenges in translating Chinese experience to other markets – these tech players will be able to compete very effectively with incumbent global companies. Chinese companies also continue to raise capital from US stock exchanges with The Economist reporting Chinese listings have raised close to USD 17 billion since January 2020.
Continued Focus on R&D. Life sciences companies operate in an extremely competitive global market where they have to work on new products against a backdrop of competition from generics and a global concern over rising healthcare expenditure. Apart from regulatory challenges, they also face immense competition from local manufacturers as they enter each new market.
Re-thinking their Distribution Strategy. Sales and distribution for many pharma and medtech organisations have been traditional – using agents, distributors, clinicians, and healthcare providers. But now they need to change their go-to-market strategies, target patients and consumers directly and package their product offerings into value-added services. This will require them to incorporate customer experience enhancers in their R&D, going beyond drug discovery and product innovation.
Tracking Global Regulations. Governments across the world are trying to manage their healthcare budgets. They are also more focused on chronic disease management. The focus has shifted to value-based medicine in general, but pharma and medtech products are being increasingly held accountable by health outcomes. Governments are increasingly implementing drug reforms around what clinicians can prescribe. Global Life Sciences organisations have to constantly monitor the regulations in the multiple countries where they operate and sell. They are also accountable for their entire supply chain, especially ensuring a high product quality and fraud prevention.
The global Ecosystm AI study reveals the top priorities for Life Sciences organisations, focused on adopting emerging technologies (Figure 1). They appear to be investing in emerging technology especially in their R&D and clinical discovery and Manufacturing functions.
Technology as an Enabler of Life Sciences Transformation
Discovery and Development
With the evolution of technology, Life Sciences organisations are able to automate much of the mundane tasks around drug discovery and apply AI and machine learning to transform their drug discovery and development process. They are increasingly leveraging their ecosystem of smaller pharma and medtech companies, research laboratories, academic institutions, and technology providers to make the process more time and cost efficient.
Using an AI algorithm, the researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered an antibiotic compound that can kill many species of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. MIT’s algorithm screens millions of chemical compounds and chooses the antibiotics which have the potential to eliminate bacteria resistant to existing drugs. Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering is manufacturing 3D printed organ-on-a-chip to give insights on cell, tissue, and organ biology to help the pharma sector with drug development, disease modelling and finally in the development of personalised medicine.
Life Sciences are also engaging more with technology partners – whether emerging start-ups or established players. Pfizer and Saama are working together on AI clinical data mining. The companies are developing and deploying an AI-based analytical tool where Pfizer provides clinical data and domain knowledge to train models on the Saama Life Science Analytics Cloud (LSAC). Saama was identified as a partner at a hackathon. Sanofi and Google have established a new virtual Innovation Lab to develop scientific and commercial solutions, using multiple Google capabilities from cloud computing to AI.
Tech providers also keep evolving their capabilities in the Life Sciences industry for more efficient drug discovery and better treatment protocols. Microsoft’s Project Hanover uses machine learning to develop a personalised drug protocol to manage acute myeloid leukaemia. Similarly, Apple’s ResearchKit – an open-source framework is meant to help researchers and developers create iOS-based applications in the field of medical research.
Manufacturing and Logistics
The industry also faces the challenges faced by any Manufacturing organisation and has the need to deploy manufacturing analytics, and advanced supply chain technology for better process and optimisation and agility. There is also the need for complete visibility over their supply chain and inventory for traceability, safety, and fraud prevention. Emerging technologies such as Blockchain will become increasingly relevant for real-time track and trace capability.
The MediLedger Network was established as an open network to the entire pharma supply chain. The project brings a consortium of some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, and logistics providers to improve drug supply chain management.
Since the data on the distributed ledger is encrypted, it creates a secure system without any vulnerabilities. This eliminates counterfeit products and ultimately ensures the quality of the pharma products and promotes increased patient safety. To foster security and improve the supply chain, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) successfully completed a pilot with a group including IBM, KPMG, Merck and Walmart to support U.S. Drug Supply Chain Security Act (DSCSA) to trace vaccines and prescription medicines throughout the country.
Diagnostics and Personalised Healthcare
As more devices (consumer and enterprise) and applications enter the market, people will take ownership and interest in their own health outcomes. This is seeing a continued growth in online communities and comparison sites (on physicians, hospitals, and pharmaceutical products). Increasingly, insurance providers will use data from wearable devices for a more personalised approach; promoting and rewarding good health practices.
Beyond the use of wearables and health and wellness apps, we will also see an exponential increase of home-based healthcare products and services – whether for primary care and chronic disease management, or long-term and palliative care. As patients become more engaged with their care, the life sciences industry is beginning to serve them through personalised approach, medicines, right diagnosis and through advanced medical devices and products.
An online tool developed by the University of Virginia Health Systems helps identify patients that have a high risk of getting a stroke and helps them reduce that risk. This tool calculates the patient’s probability of suffering a stroke by measuring the severity of their metabolic syndrome – taking into account a number of conditions that include high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels and excess body fat. Life Sciences organisations are increasingly having to invest in customer-focused solutions such as these.
Wearables with special smart software to monitor health parameters, gauge drug compatibility and monitor complications are being implemented by Life Sciences organisations. The US FDA approved a pill called Abilify MyCite fitted with a tiny ingestible sensor that communicates with a patch worn by the patient to transmit data on a smartphone. Medtech companies continue to develop FDA approved health devices that can monitor chronic conditions. Smart continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) and insulin pens send blood glucose level data to smartphone applications allowing the wearer to easily check their information and detect trends.
What is interesting about these personalised products is that not only do they improve clinical outcomes, they also give Life Sciences companies access to rich data that can be used for further product development and improvement.
The Life Sciences industry will continue to operate in an unpredictable and competitive market. This is evident by the several mergers and acquisitions that we witness in the industry. As they continue to use cutting-edge technology for their R&D practices, they will leverage technology to transform other functions as well.
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Last week, global heavyweights with a stake in the global supply chain, joined a consortium to work on creating that agility. This includes PepsiCo, BMW, Shopify, DHL, and the United States Postal Service and some emerging tech companies. The alliance will actively work on solutions to embed automation and digitalisation in the logistics and supply chain systems. While this consortium was formed last year, recent events have accelerated the need to fix a global problem.
Co-Creation and Innovation
LINK is a collaborative ecosystem, co-founded by Innovation Endeavors and Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners (SIP) to bring together emerging tech start-ups, institutions and global organisations to innovate and make supply chains resilient. The tech start-ups involved include the likes of Fabric, that has large automated micro-fulfillment centres for faster deliveries, and Third Wave Automation, that has developed automated forklifts with enhanced safety measures.
LINK aims to transform global supply chains, with the use of technologies such as automation, IoT, AI, and Robotics. The solutions developed by the start-ups will be tested in real-life situations, often in large organisations with complex operations. On the other hand, the start-ups will have access to the internal systems of these large organisations to understand the data and their organisational needs.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says, “COVID-19 has brought the need for supply chain agility and resilience to a completely new level of criticality. Companies in the ‘New Normal’ will need higher levels of nimbleness and flexibility to be able to recover from this crisis quickly and sustain in an increasing disruptive world. Increased ability to sense and respond to disruptions will be key to success. It will require better visibility of their entire supply chain, increasing efficiencies, building necessary redundancies (in form of inventory and capacity) where they are required the most – redundancy comes at a cost – and being flexible and innovative to cater to the rapid market and supply-side changes. Rapid digitalisation to build such capabilities will be a key to success.”
“Managing such rapid changes is usually a struggle for organisations with large and complex supply chains, because of the years of past practices, systems and culture. For them Innovation is a must, but the path to innovation is difficult. The LINK collaboration model is the right step towards addressing that challenge. Collaborating with start-ups can infuse new ideas, more innovative ways of solving a problem and rapid testing of use cases in the areas of IoT, AI and automation.”
Involving Start-ups for Innovation
This initiative is a great example of how larger enterprises are looking to leverage innovations by the start-up community. The Financial Services industry has been an early beneficiary, when it stopped competing with Fintech organisations, partnering with them instead. Other industries have started to recognise the benefits of fast pivots and the role start-ups can play.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Ravi Bhogaraju says, “Bringing together companies that have complementary and unique capabilities to solve industry issues is a great way to speed up experimentation and innovation.”
However, he recognises that forming alliances such as this, comes with its own set of challenges. “One of the key things to recognise in such a construct is that the team members from different possessions bring with them their unique belief systems, organisational and country cultural constructs. Expectations on how things should work, can become quite tricky to navigate. The talent and expertise in such an environment need to be facilitated be able to deliver high quality outcomes.”
Talking about how these constructs can work successfully, delivering what started out to deliver, Bhogaraju says, “An agile team setup can help tremendously as it uses two key principles – People and Interactions over processes; as well as Working models over documentation.”
“A clear expectation setting through contracting at the beginning of the project cycle can help establish the ways of working and rules of engagement. Increased regular feedback and problem solving should continuously fine tune the ways of working. This way teams can get through the norming process at pace and scale and eventually focus on outcomes, rather than fumble over each other and/or have ego flareups.”
“The key is to get to creative problem-solving working cohesively – the intent being to challenge the status quo – stepping outside the box and using all capabilities within the team. Blending the subcultures together using agile way of working and principles, can be a fantastic way to make that happen – failing which you have the challenge of trying to somehow bring together different work products, people and preferences.”
To further boost the innovation in agritech and upscale the Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures (SFF Futures), an additional USD 56 million has been earmarked for smaller grassroots community projects to large-scale industry development. This will support the Government’s Fit for a better world Roadmap – a 10-year roadmap for the primary industry; and add value across the agriculture, horticulture, fisheries and marine, and forestry sectors.
The Roadmap includes objectives such as:
Adding USD 29 billion in export earnings over the next decade (2020 to 2030) through a focus on creating value
Reducing the biogenic methane emissions to below 10% by 2030 and restoring New Zealand’s freshwater environments
Employing 10% more New Zealanders in the food and fibres sector by 2030, and 10,000 more by 2024
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Jannat Maqbool says, “In addition to the current environment with COVID-19, a new generation of consumers across the globe is becoming considerate that they buy what is good for the world in the face of climate change, biodiversity loss and the degradation of waterways. The ability to manage and assure quality and safety from ‘farm to fork’ is now more important than ever, leveraging technology for traceability, risk management, and rapid response capability to meet consumer demands and relevant legislative requirements.”
Through this Industry Transformation Plan (ITP), the Government seeks to attract investments in New Zealand’s agritech intellectual property (IP), develop the necessary infrastructure, focus on export opportunities, address current concerns related to connectivity and data, and ensure a skilled workforce that is able to both develop and effectively leverage agritech.
Maqbool says, “The success of the plan will depend on how well relevant stakeholders engage and ongoing support from government to help create the conditions required for the sector to realise its potential.”
The Government of New Zealand is working to retain competitiveness in global agriculture. Some key initiatives include:
Farm 2050 Country Partnership. New Zealand became the first country partner of Farm2050- a global agritech initiative that brings together farmers, researchers, the market and investors to collaborate effectively.
Western Growers partnership. Western Growers and New Zealand signed a partnership agreement to develop agritech. It also opened doors for New Zealand’s agritech researchers and companies working in the robotics and automation space to enter the US Market.
New Zealand is fast becoming an example of how technology providers and food producers can collaborate on improving yields, optimising production methods and reducing waste, predicting demand, and safeguarding supply chains.
Continuing the conversation around Agritech, we discussed the role of technology for improving yields, optimising production methods and reducing waste, predicting demand, and safeguarding supply chains.👇
This virtual event was a part of Techweek NZ, and in partnership with the Singapore FinTech Festival.
Retail organisations that had not walked the DX path found themselves struggling to cope in recent times. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Alan Hesketh says, “Digital transformation in retail, as represented by deep customer understanding and omnichannel operations, is far from new. Industry leaders launched these activities almost 20 years ago and continue to aggressively develop these capabilities. Retailers not actively leveraging these capabilities to understand their customer preferences are at a massive competitive disadvantage.”
Anta Group Accelerates DX
The Anta Group, a sports products manufacturer based in China with over 12,500 stores, has launched a group-wide digital platform designed and deployed by IBM Services based on SAP S/4HANA. The initial phase of Anta Group’s DX included creating intelligent workflows and was completed in January 2020. This enabled the company to adjust its retail operations and switch to quickly to online channels during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like any retail organisation, the Anta Group realised that their product offerings had to be diverse to cater to an evolving customer base. This growth required an upgrade to a group-level management platform to help the business run more efficiently across the entire value chain of procurement, supply, production and sales. The SAP S/4HANA platform gives the senior management a single view of data across business units to help with better decision making regarding production and sales optimisation. The company claims to have improved its supply chain efficiency by 80%, that has led to faster delivery and business growth even in these difficult times.
IBM Services has a role to play in providing the business intelligence required for agile decision-making. By integrating data from multiple sources – retail stores, multi-brand products, channels, customers, suppliers and finance teams – on the one platform can help Anta Group to settle accounts quickly and issue business analysis reports for different entities as well as a real-time view of the operation across the organisation.
Hesketh says, “Retailers must have an accurate, timely understanding of their customers’ behaviour and resulting sales performance. COVID-19 has dramatically increased the volatility of sales, making rapid recognition of changes essential. For those lagging in their digital transformation to acquire this understanding, an attractive option is partnering with organisations with demonstrated relevant capabilities; in this case with SAP, for the capabilities and performance of their in-memory product, and IBM for their configuration and implementation expertise.”
IBM and SAP evolving their partnership
In 2016, IBM and SAP had expressed intentions of increasing investments to help their customers on their DX journeys. As some economies move into the recovery phase, all businesses will be forced to transform – or keep transforming if they are already along that path. Last month saw IBM and SAP announce the evolution of their partnership with new offerings to help businesses transform faster. The next evolution of the IBM and SAP partnership aims to focus on faster DX time to value, innovation through industry-specific offerings, customer and employee experiences and providing flexibility and choice to organisations to run their workloads in hybrid cloud environments.
Hesketh adds, “But the product and implementation partners are, while important, not the real determinant of the success of DX activity and time to value. Retailers must recognise and commit to the strategic reshaping of their business, taking their large workforces with them on the journey. This is a high-risk change. A strong relationship between product vendor and implementation partner, as SAP and IBM demonstrate here, assists in reducing, not removing, this risk.”
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Last year Microsoft’s industry updates showcased several IoT implementations across industries and their edge-based solutions portfolio, customers and partner ecosystem. The tech giant revealed nearly 150% YoY growth with customers such as Starbucks, Chevron, Walmart, Walgreens, BMW and Volkswagen added to the Azure platform, leveraging IoT services to accelerate their digital transformation journey. Microsoft also announced more than 70 partnerships with some of the big names in the IoT ecosystem, such as Universal Electronics, SAP, and Cradlepoint to extend solutions and support for the Microsoft IoT business.
Extending IoT Capabilities with Strategic Partnerships
There were several recent announcements which indicate that Microsoft is focused on strengthening their IoT and industry capabilities – and this is a timely move. Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Kaushik Ghatak says, “COVID-19 has brought to the fore the need for managing risks better. And the key to managing risks is to have better visibility and drive data-driven decisions; the sweet spot for IoT technologies. IoT is at the core of the Industry 4.0 story where deep domain expertise in industry verticals is a pre-requisite to success. It is heartening to see that Microsoft is taking the lead in building a powerful ecosystem by developing key partnerships with leading providers of Industry solutions.”
Last week, Microsoft and Hitachi announced a strategic alliance to accelerate the digital transformation of the Manufacturing and Logistics industries across Southeast Asia, Japan and North America. The first solutions are expected to be made available in Thailand as early as this month. Hitachi brings to the table their industry solutions, such as Lumada, and their IoT-ready industrial controllers HX Series. These solutions will be fully integrated with the Microsoft cloud platform, leveraging Azure, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365.
The three areas where the Hitachi solution is expected to bring strength to Microsoft’s industry offering are:
Process optimisation and increased manufacturing productivity. Hitachi Digital Supply Chain and Azure IoT leveraged to analyse 4M data collected from manufacturing sites for visualisation/ analysis of production processes
Logistics optimisation. Digital technologies such as Azure Maps and Hitachi Digital Solution for Logistics/Delivery Optimisation Service to analyse data on parameters such as traffic congestion, storage locations and delivery locations, to enabling smart routing
Predictive maintenance and remote assist. HoloLens 2, Dynamics 365 Remote Assist and other smart devices, to empower first-line workers
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Niloy Mukherjee feels that with projections of 43 – 100 billion IoT connected devices in the next few years, IoT is obviously a hot space. “We can think of IoT as a stack with four layers – the devices/sensors, the connection layer, the cloud and computing layer and the business apps layer. With Azure, Microsoft is very well positioned in the cloud and compute layer and can grab a large chunk of this fast-growing market. Tying with players like Hitachi allows Microsoft to integrate with the business apps layer and perhaps also some devices. It is absolutely the right strategy and I would expect them to go for many more such alliances. With Microsoft’s strength in the enterprise market, IoT gives them a great opportunity to increase their share of cloud workloads with customers.”
Addressing the Challenges of IoT Adoption
Ecosystm research shows that the biggest challenges in IoT adoption are security and integration concerns (Figure 1).
In 2018, when Microsoft started actively focusing on IoT, they also launched the Azure Certified for IoT program to maintain consistency and enhanced interoperability across their device partner ecosystem. This addresses the integration challenges that organisations face when deploying IoT. Microsoft continues to grow their IoT ecosystem, ensuring faster IoT deployments, with hardware and software that has been pre-tested and verified to work with Microsoft Azure IoT services. Last week also saw Cyient joining Microsoft Azure as a certified partner for IoT. Cyient IoT Edge Gateway 5400, their flagship IoT gateway product is now Microsoft Azure Certified for IoT. This is expected to accelerate IoT deployment for Cyient customers and enable a seamless integration of edge devices to the cloud.
Ghatak says, “To scale up their IoT business, Microsoft would need to develop a substantially large ecosystem, beyond few key players such as Hitachi, who dominate at the large enterprise segment of the market. That is where partnerships with smaller and niche industry solutions providers such as Cyient fits in. More niche providers such as Cyient will increase Microsoft’s reach into medium and smaller segments of the enterprise market.”
Addressing the Increasing Threat Landscape
Recent cyber-attack trends and security breach statistics reveal a huge increase in cybercrime activities, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the number of IoT sensors, devices and gateways increase, so does the risk of security breaches. As shown in figure 1, cybersecurity concerns are real and can act as a barrier to IoT adoption, despite the benefits that the technology brings. Automated vulnerability management capabilities, that allow risk assessment and patch installation where necessary will see an increase in IoT adoption.
To complement Microsoft Azure IoT security, Microsoft acquired IoT security specialist CyberX, last month. The acquisition will enable greater security for the IoT devices connected to the Microsoft network and will help their customers to gain visibility through a map of devices thus allowing them to gather information on security risks associated with thousands of sensors and connected devices. This will enhance smart grid, smart manufacturing and digital assets and profiles and reduce vulnerabilities across production and supply chain.
Mukherjee says, “The key concern for the expansion of IoT into more and more use cases in the next few years is really going to be security. New areas like VR and AR are emerging from futuristic fantasy to real-world reality. These will tempt many enterprises – but security will be the key concern to address. And so, Microsoft’s simultaneous push on security completely aligns with this. As the Ecosystm MSSP VendorScope results show Microsoft’s strategy on cybersecurity seems to be working.”
Talking about Microsoft’s go-to-market strategy, Mukherjee adds, “Microsoft is obviously spreading its net far and wide for all cloud applications including IoT, to go-to-market with partners. One of the key focus area here is the SME segment, which is forecast to be one of the hot growing segments for IoT in the next few years. The more offerings from the business apps layer that Microsoft integrates, the more they enable their partners to sell to their customers.”